If anyone has earned the tag “DJ’s DJ,” it’s Phoenix, AZ, native Zach Sciacca, better known as DJ Z-Trip. Since shocking the underground with 2001 indie release, Uneasy Listening Vol. 1 (a collaboration with fellow jock DJ P), Z-Trip’s uncanny ability to layer songs from a dizzying array of genres would go on to heavily influence the “mash-up” movement of the ’00s decade and genre-smashing acts like Pittsburgh’s Girl Talk.
Z-Trip was still an aspiring DJ in the relatively desolate Phoenix scene in the late ‘90s when a series of happy accidents resulted in him being tapped to participate in the often overlooked classic-rock-meets-rap soundtrack for 1998 tween action movie, Small Soldiers, resulting in his remix of “Tom Sawyer,” the 1981 hit by recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Rush.
“Someone over at the Dreamworks just hit me up about it, “Z-Trip remembers of the fateful call during an exclusive interview with Radio.com. “He’d heard this track I’d made called ‘Rock Star’ for (1997 independent release) Return of the DJ Vol. 2,” he added about his hip-hop remix that’s built on rock samples from the likes of Black Sabbath.
“They gave me a budget of something around $1000, which was like nothing, but I didn’t care. I was just so stoked to be doing it,” he continued about remixing the Rush classic for the Small Soldiers soundtrack, which also includes a hip-hop rework of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” featuring Queen Latifah and a wild cover of Edwin Starr’s Motown hit “War” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony with Henry Rollins, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea.
“I remember telling (the label) that I needed them to get me the master tapes of ‘Tom Saywer’ for me to do it right. I thought they’d be like, ‘no way,’ but at the time, Dreamworks had just kind of started up, and they had all the pull in the world. Next thing I knew, the masters of the song were in my hands.”
Breaking the tune down into individual parts and loading them into his sampler, working for more than a week crafting the pieces into one cohesive remix.
“This was my moment. I wanted to show people that I knew what I was doing. I was so excited to be getting paid by a major label to do it,” Z-Trip said, using legendary producer Rick Rubin as his inspiration.
“He really got the hip-hop mixed with rock thing right,” he added in reference to the producer for such luminaries as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and Jay-Z. “I just kept asking myself, ‘what would Rick Rubin do?’ while making the song.”
The DJ even went so far as to have the parts all pressed onto delicate vinyl acetates for live scratches on the recording.
“At the end of the week I sent the track to the label, and they were completely stoked on it, and I was, too,” Z-Trip recalled of the final product. “It was the first proper remix, and easily the biggest thing I’d ever done at the time.
“The coolest part of the whole thing was that Rush had to hear the remix and sign off on it,” he explained. “They were totally into it. At the time, I was just some kid living in an industrial warehouse space with nothing but a bunch of records. There was no kitchen or anything. It was real bare-bones hard times, and that remix kicked open the door to all kinds of opportunities for me.
“It was also a big deal for me as a fan,” he surmised. “I started out as a drummer, and Neil Peart was a huge influence. ‘Tom Sawyer’ is such a mega-tune that I just couldn’t f— it up. It was really important for me to maintain the integrity of the song structure while flipping it into a remix.
“I was recently in L.A. driving to the dentist and listening to the radio show ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic,’ hosted by Jason Bentley,” Z-Trip shared in regards to the influential and popular NPR station KCRW. “I turned it on and was like, ‘awesome, they’re playing Rush!’ About eight or sixteen bars in, it hit me: ‘wait a second – this is my remix!’ It totally caught me off guard. I didn’t even recognize my own remix at first. It was great to hear it with fresh ears like that.”
While he has yet to meet the legendary Canadian rockers face-to-face, the DJ was still able to have an up close and personal moment with them during a Canadian music festival where he opened for Rush as well as the Rolling Stones.
“The two oddballs on that bill were me and Justin Timberlake,” he recalled laughing. “During Rush, Justin’s drummer and I sat on the stage, just feet from where Neil Peart was playing drums,” he gushed. “Just seeing him beat the s— out of those drums with such precision up close like that was simply amazing.”
Z-Trip most recently performed as part of the all-star line-up aboard the inaugural luxury music cruise the S.S. Coachella, alongside acts like Pulp, Sleigh Bells, Grimes, James Murphy and more. He’s also finishing up a new artist album featuring appearances from such hip-hop luminaries as De La Soul, which he plans on releasing sometime this year.
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local